Posts Tagged ‘Flying Killer Drones’

What Obama could do to curb Trump’s power

December 5, 2016

President Obama said during the campaign that he’s worried about somebody like Donald Trump with access to the nuclear codes and all the other powers of the Presidency.  A writer named Pratap Chatterjee listed nine things Obama could do to reduce Trump’s power to do harm.

  1.   Name innocent drone victims.
  2.   Make public any reviews of military errors.
  3.   Make public the administration’s criteria for its “targeted killings.”
  4.   Disclose mass surveillance programs.
  5.   Make public all surveillance agreements with private companies.
  6.   Make public all secret laws created in recent years.
  7.   Punish anyone who has abused the drone or surveillance programs.
  8.   Punish those responsible for FBI domain management abuses.
  9.   Pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and the other whistleblowers.

That wouldn’t eliminate a President Trump’s power to start wars without authorization from Congress, but it would be a start on reducing Presidential powers to their Constitutional limits.


Obama’s Last Chance by Pratap Chatterjee for TomDispatch.

FBI and NSA Poised to Gain New Surveillance Powers Under Trump by Chris Strohm for Bloomberg News.


Victim’s grandchild: ‘I no longer love blue skies’

October 31, 2013

The video above is from a documentary film called Unmanned about drone strikes on civilians in Pakistan.  The Rehman family, shown in that video, also is shown below when they came to Washington, D.C., this week to testify before Congress.

The family of a 67-year-old midwife from a remote village in North Waziristan told lawmakers on Tuesday about her death and the “CIA drone” they say was responsible. Their harrowing accounts marked the first time Congress had ever heard from civilian victims of an alleged US drone strike.

Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani primary school teacher who appeared on Capitol Hill with his children, Zubair, 13, and Nabila, 9, described his mother, Momina Bibi, as the “string that held our family together”.  His two children, who were gathering okra with their grandmother the day she was killed, on 24 October 2012, were injured in the attack.

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rehman said, through a translator. “Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.”

Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: “Not a militant but my mother.”


Nabilia, the 9-year-old girl, said she is afraid to go to school because of drones overhead.  Good for Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) for arranging for this testimony to be heard.  It’s too bad that only four other members of the House of Representatives heard it.

Killer drones are justified on the grounds that they are a more precise method of killing than the alternatives—dropping napalm or cluster bombs from airplanes, or invading with ground troops.  But the issue is not the method of killing.  The issue is the killing of civilian bystanders in nations with which the United States is not at war.  The significance of drone technology is that it makes killing so easy and so seemingly free of consequences.

It would be interesting to know whether this 67-year-old grandmother was killed because a drone went astray, or because of mistaken identity, or because some drone operator simply didn’t care.   No matter which is these possibilities is the correct one, they indicate something seriously wrong with the U.S. use of drones.


The Obama revolution in military affairs

August 1, 2013

President Barack Obama’s commitment to warfare by means of flying killer drones and secret special forces may have accomplished what Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld failed to achieve in the Bush administration.

Rumsfeld sought to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome”—the reluctance of the American people, based on sad experience, to commit to long-term wars on the continent of Asia.   The replacement of the military draft by an all-volunteer army was supposed to accomplish this, but, unfortunately from the standpoint of the administration, even members of a volunteer army have families, friends and neighbors who don’t want to see them go into harm’s way for no understandable purpose.

droneattackobamaUnder President Obama and probably under his successors, the United States is unlikely to become involved in long-term struggles in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  Instead the prime tool of the U.S. military will be the flying killer drone.   Nobody ever held a funeral for a flying drone, or wondered whether the drone was sacrificed in vain.

What can’t be accomplished by drones will be done by the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite force tasked with carrying out the execution of President Obama’s kill lists.

What JSOC can’t accomplish will be done by U.S.-armed local insurgents, as in Libya and Syria.  While the latter have their own agendas, which aren’t necessarily the same as the U.S. government’s, this is offset by the fact that the bodies of dead insurgents won’t come home to the United States in flag-draped caskets.

Years ago I was a member of a prisoner adoption group for Amnesty International.  We conducted letter-writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience, which were highly embarrassing to dictators around the world.  One of the successes of my group was Jacobo Timmerman, a brave Argentine editor.

The response of the Agentine and other Latin American dictatorships was not to create death squads and arrange for their opponents to be “disappeared”, so there no longer were any prisoners to protest.  As Stalin once said, “No person, no problem.”

Obama’s flying killer robots accomplish the same goal.  Instead of grabbing someone and bringing them to Guantanamo Bay, his forces simply reduce the person to a bug splat with the killer drone.  There are no embarrassing prisoners conducting hunger strikes.  No person, no problem.

The problem with drone warfare is not the technology.  If you have to fight a war, the drones are good weapons to have.  They are not more lethal than the technologies they replace, certainly no worse than the bombing of “suspected Viet Cong strongholds” I was always reading about in the newspapers in the 1960s.

The problem with drone warfare is that it removes the constraints on waging war.  In fact, drone warfare isn’t really like waging war as most people think of it.  It is more like hunting prey, like Sarah Palin’s family shooting wolves from helicopters.

President Obama has recommitted the United States to a “war on terror” that will go on so long as there are people plotting to do harm to Americans.  But there will be people plotting to do harm to Americans so long as children, old people and other bystanders are killed by American killer drones.


Missing the point on drone killings

February 25, 2013
G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

He had … … the trick of dismissing the important part of a question as if it could wait, and appearing to get to business on the unimportant part of it.  Thus, he would say, “Whatever we may think of the rights and wrongs of the vivisection of pauper children, we shall all agree that it should only be done, in any event, by fully qualified practitioners.”

==G.K. Chesterton, The Flying Inn

I heard a version of this kind of argument the other day when I was talking about drone killings to an Obamaphile friend of mine.  My friend, whom I regard as both an intelligent person and a decent human being, argued that for President Obama to order the killing of people by precision flying drones is better than the alternative.  The people in the target areas are better off, he said, than if the United States was dropping napalm and cluster bombs or invading with troops.

Considered as a technology, flying killer drones are of course no worse than other weapons technologies, except they allow the illusion that killing is easy, safe and without consequences.  The question is whether in a supposedly free country, the President should have the power to draw up death warrants and order killings at his sole discretion, like Yuri Andropov in the days of the old Soviet Union.

V.I. Lenin once wrote:  The scientific definition of dictatorship means nothing less but this: power without limit, resting directly on force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted by rules.   If a head of state has the authority to sign death warrants as his sole discretion, what does he lack to fit Lenin’s definition?  If this is accepted, not only President Obama, but every President for the foreseeable future, will lack nothing to exercise the power of a dictator.

Dr. King’s dream vs. Obama’s drones

January 23, 2013


In October 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attended a gathering in Islamabad where he was taught how to use a video camera so he could document the drones that were constantly circling over his Pakistani village, terrorizing and killing his family and neighbors. Two days later, when Aziz was driving with his 12-year-old cousin to a village near his home in Waziristan to pick up his aunt, his car was struck by a Hellfire missile.  With the push of a button by a pilot at a US base thousands of miles away, both boys were instantly vaporized—only a few chunks of flesh remained.

Afterwards, the US government refused to acknowledge the boys’ deaths or explain why they were targeted. Why should they? This is a covert program where no one is held accountable for their actions.

via People to People Blog.

Tariq Aziz had as much right to live on this earth as Trayvon Martin or the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Murder is murder, whether it is committed with a firearm or a killer missile, or whether by someone acting alone or acting under cloak of governmental authority.

John Brennan, who was President Obama’s chief adviser in drawing up his drone kill lists, is now the President’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency.   Ron Wyden, the Democratic Senator from Oregon, has written to Brennan and to the heads of other government agencies requesting information on the legal justification for the drone killings.  He also requested a list of countries in which the U.S. government is conducting drone killings.  So far he has gotten no response.  The information Wyden requested is hardly a matter of national security—unless you regard the people of the United States as an enemy.

Barack Obama was sworn in to his second term as President of the United States using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s bible.  Dr. King in 1967 called the United States the leading purveyor of violence in the world today.  Honoring the legacy of Dr. King would mean a dedication to peace and social justice.  It means more racially-integrated killer strike forces.

For his second term, President Obama apparently has made a decision to stand up to the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, which is a good thing.  But he continues to be a champion of the real holders of power in this country, especially the secret military-intelligence establishment and the Wall Street financial establishment.

Click on John Brennan vs. Sixteen-Year-Old for the source of the quote on the People-to-People Blog.

Click on Senate hearing for killer-drones master for more by Nat Hentoff.

Click on US military says Martin Luther King would be proud of its weapons and MLK’s vehement condemnations of US militarism are more relevant than ever for more from Glenn Greenwald.

Obama wouldn’t trust Romney with his kill list

November 29, 2012

Barack Obama draws up secret kill lists of people he deems enemies of the United States, on his own discretion based on secret criteria.  Even the legal rationale for the kill lists is a secret.  But the New York Times reported that in the weeks leading up to the election, the Obama administration began work on a “legal architecture” for deciding who to kill.  The reason: Mitt Romney could not be trusted with this power.

I suppose it is natural that somebody who feels confident he should be trusted to exercise life-and-death power without accountability might not think that anybody else could be trusted with the same power.  But how is it that it only occurred to Obama in the months running up to the election that someday a Republican would occupy the White House and exercise the powers that Obama created?

“Legal architecture” is an Orwellian phrase.  It means the opposite of “code of laws.”  It simply means that the Obama administration will codify its own procedures.  It is hard to see why President Obama thinks a future administration would be bound by those procedures when he himself is not bound by the Constitution.

This would be a great opportunity for the Republican leaders to show themselves to be what they claim to be—defenders of the Constitution against all-powerful government.  Instead of asking Susan Rice why she shouldn’t get her story straight about who was behind the Benghazi attacks, they should ask her whether she recognizes any limit on the power of the government to issue death warrants.

Click on Obama Administration Was Not Willing To Trust Romney with a Secret Kill List for more by Kevin Gosztola on Firedoglake’s The Dissenter.

Click on Obama: a GOP president should have rules limiting the kill list for Glenn Greenwald’s analysis.

Will robots make decision on who to kill?

November 13, 2012

Flying killer drones are sometimes used against people in the kill zones of Pakistan and other countries based on behavior that fits a computer profile—carrying what looks like a weapon, or loading a truck with what look like explosives.   Now military researchers are taking this a step further.  They are working on artificial intelligence programs that will give autonomy to the drones.  The drone’s program will make the kill decision, subject—perhaps—to the human operator’s veto.

We now have a President who claims the right to issue kill orders without accountability.   Now the world is moving toward kill orders without human responsibility.

Over the next decade, changes in computing power will enable teams of hi-tech drones to operate virtually on their own, or as “robotic wingmen” to piloted aircraft, said Werner Dahm, the Air Force’s former top scientist. ****

One veteran robotics scientist, Ronald Arkin, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, believes that countries will inevitably deploy independent robots capable of killing an enemy without a human pushing a button.

Arkin, who has worked on US defense programs for years, argues that robotic weapons can and should be designed as “ethical” warriors, with the ability to distinguish combatants from innocent civilians.

Without emotions to cloud their judgment and anger driving their actions, the robots could wage war in a more restrained, “humane” way, in accordance with the laws of war, Arkin said.

“It is not my belief that an unmanned system will be able to be perfectly ethical in the battlefield, but I am convinced that they can perform more ethically than human soldiers are capable of,” he wrote.

via Defense News.

This is the kind of thinking that leads to another “Nobody could have foreseen… …” moment.


Ben Emmerson, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and terrorism, said in late October that the United Nations will investigate civilian deaths caused by U.S. flying killer drones.  As if in response, one of President Obama’s first actions after winning the Presidential election was to order a drone strike in Yemen.

I do not claim that everyone killed by the drones is an innocent, nor do I claim that there is something especially reprehensible about drone technology, as compared to, say, napalm bombs or cluster bombs.   Drones are useful weapons and useful for surveillance.

The issue is constitutional.  Do we want to give the President—any President—the power to sign death warrants based on secret criteria?  We have a curious kind of double-think on this issue.  On the one hand, President Obama boasts of the drone program’s success.  At the same time, the U.S. government claims the drone program is a secret and refuses to officially acknowledge that it exists.

Now the U.S. military and CIA are talking about taking irresponsibility to a new level—putting the killer drones on automatic pilot.

As often happens, science fiction writers were thinking about these issues before anyone else.  Click on Watchbird to read Robert Sheckley’s 1953 short story.  Or find a copy of John Shirley’s 1985 novel Eclipse and read the opening chapter.

Click on the following links for more information.

When Drones Decide to Kill on Their Own from The Diplomat.

The Next Generation in U.S. Robotic War by Agence France-Presse.

‘Moral Robots’: the Future of War or Dystopian Fiction in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A future for drones: Automated killing in the Washington Post.

Imran Khan and the arrogance of U.S. power

October 30, 2012

Imran Khan, a former Pakistan cricket star, has gone into politics and may well be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan.  HE was interviewed in August by The Economist about his political views in the video above.

Last week, on his way to a political meeting in New York City, he was detained by U.S. immigration officials and interrogated for about 30 minutes concerning his opposition to U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan.   He missed his flight, but was allowed to continue.

A couple of things strike me about this.  First, Imran Khan’s political opinions are no great mystery.  Anybody with access to Google or YouTube can find them in a hurry.  Second, what was did the immigration official think he was accomplishing by harassing and insulting a foreign leader?  Did the official think he had the power to make Imran Khan mend his ways?  I don’t know which is worse—to think that this reflected some high level decision in Homeland Security, or that some low level official thought that this was within his discretion, and nobody called him to account.

In the total scheme of things, there are many worse violations of human rights than Imran Khan being questioned at the Toronto airport.  But it is an example of an attitude by American officials toward the rest of the world that has generated a bad backlash, and is certain to create a worse backlash in the years ahead.

Click on Imran Khan detained and ‘interrogated over drone views’ by US immigration for Glenn Greenwald’s report for Britain’s The Guardian.

Click on Outrage over CIA’s deadly ‘double tap’ drone attacks for a report in Britain’s The Independent.